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Business Clinic – Employee referral
Making it work

Employee referral schemes are a great way to find new staff – and frequently staff found via other employees are more likely to stay at a service for longer. But the bureaucracy and paperwork make it an underused resource. So what if it was simpler?

Care Friends is a new mobile app developed by Neil Eastwood of Sticky People. The idea emerged from Neil’s research into social care recruitment and retention, where he repeatedly saw that employee referral and word of mouth was the best source of high-performing, long-staying care staff. He also found that most staff in the sector say they love their jobs and are pre-disposed to recommend it to others, but the number of referrals remained stubbornly low.

Upon researching employee referral schemes in both the care sector and other areas, Neil saw that the schemes themselves were often the issue. Staff had to fill in paper forms, weren’t aware of the benefits of referring friends, and it was an admin-heavy task. He decided to develop Care Friends to see whether this could help improve people’s use of employee referral schemes.

Testing the concept

Once the concept was refined, Neil ran a series of focus groups with care assistants, homecare staff and learning disability support workers. He also interviewed in-house recruiters, registered managers, directors and owners.

At the same time, he approached a company that had developed a similar app which they were testing in different sectors. They agreed to let him use it as a prototype to prove the concept in a pilot.

The app was trialled alongside Surrey Care Association, whose members gave feedback and one, Melody Care, went on to run a six-month pilot. That pilot and the feedback from the recruiter and staff helped inform the build of the Version 1 Care Friends app and, supported by the Cornwall Adult Health and Social Care Partnership, to win an EU grant to support a much larger beta trial in Cornwall in the Summer of 2019. That beta trial runs until December, with employers collecting data and providing feedback on the app.

How it works

Care Friends is made up of two main elements: an app that care staff download to their device and a web portal that in-house recruiters use to manage the employee referral scheme.

The entire system is built using the concept of gamification – introducing game-playing elements like earning points and competition with others for example – to make the process of referring people fun and engaging. A care worker would hear about the app from their employer and download it directly from their app store. They would enter a company code which identifies the company they work for and agree to the scheme rules. Then they share listed jobs with their friends and contacts either directly via SMS or What’s App, for example, or more widely via social media. They can personalise the message prior to sending. The recipient is sent a trackable link to open a brief expression of interest form to find out more. This both alerts the recruiter to contact them and awards points to the referrer automatically. A point is worth £1.

The recruiter is able to manage these referrals easily from their portal, send notifications to staff and track how well this cohort of applicants performs against other recruitment channels.
Points can be awarded to referring staff on key milestones in the referral process, such as sharing a job, receipt of an expression of interest, successful interview, starting work and their referral reaching 12 months’ employment. The system also offers a bonus of points if the referred starter is new to paid care work, thereby growing the social care workforce.

Managers are also able to award any staff bonus points as a way of motivating and engaging them. For example, as an instant thank you for picking up a dropped shift, for achieving their Care Certificate or for a compliment from a client.

Technical difficulties

Although the concept is relatively straightforward and the user interface for care staff is simple, the complexity behind the scenes to build a system that works for both single-site, small care providers and multisite, multi-million-pound employers is considerable. Neil says, ‘We had underestimated the sheer amount of bug-fixing and re-testing that a project like this requires. That has led to delays in launching and cost overruns, but this seems to be the experience of almost all start-up software suppliers in the care sector.

‘We had anticipated that replacing a previously manual, paper-based process with a digital one would require lots of thinking and effort to ensure care providers were supported to launch and familiarise their staff with the app. To overcome this, we have worked with an internal communications agency to produce a launch toolkit for employers and have used the latest guided navigation software to help recruiters get started. This has paid off. Focusing on successful implementation cannot be overstated.’

Delivering results

The early pilot activated a third of the workforce as recruiters in the local community and Care Friends is looking to improve on that in its beta trials. One unexpected success was relating to DBS checks. New starters were encouraged to download the app on acceptance of the job – so they still had to wait for DBS checks and references to come back. Neil says, ‘In social care, typically as many as half of this group would drop out prior to starting training. But when they downloaded the app, they started recommending their friends to join them and were much more likely not to drop out as they had started accruing points waiting for cashing in once they joined.’

Care Friends is hoping to be able to demonstrate metrics like whether referrals show up for interview more often, whether they are more likely to be hired, whether they stay employed longer and whether more people are being encouraged to work in social care.

The ultimate aim of the app is for Care Friends to make a meaningful impact on the current and future vacancy rate, on reducing the growing spend on temporary agency staffing and on improving retention rates both by bringing in high-quality new staff and by allowing managers to instantly recognise the contribution of staff. Neil continues, ‘There are many more exciting possibilities for the platform once it has scale, but for now we need to stay focused on ensuring the app delivers on its core purpose – to help solve the impending recruitment crisis.’

Over to the experts…

What are the considerations when looking at this technology? Do you think staff will use it? What could be the challenges of implementing this?

A great initiative

This is an extremely interesting concept and, removes the administrative burden in running such a scheme. In view of the difficulties that care homes face in recruiting staff, this is an excellent idea. However, I would suggest the following considerations.

This scheme is a benefit for employees. Employers should ensure that benefits are accessible to all employees. Some may not have a smart phone to download the app, and therefore be unable to participate in this benefit scheme. This could result in grievances being raised by employees and potential discrimination claims. It is important that all employees are treated equally, and therefore it may mean that the company has to run two schemes.

Being heavily reliant on a scheme such as this to recruit staff, i.e. recruitment via friends and family, may impact on reaching a diverse workforce and impact on a company’s equal opportunities policy, to ensure that there is a balanced workforce.

With the implementation of GDPR, consideration will need to be given as to how the applicant’s data that is being accepted via the portal is managed by the company. A privacy notice will need to be prepared and made available to applicants. The privacy notice will need to include details of data that is being processed, the reason for processing the data, how long the data will be retained, confirmation that the data will be held securely and the rights of the individuals regarding that data. This is an important consideration to avoid breaching the current data protection regulations.

As I stated earlier, my view is that this is a great initiative, and should take into account the above considerations.

Sejal Raja Head of Employment, RadcliffesLeBrasseur


Must be intuitive and fair

Over the last five years, cloud-based digital apps have been introduced for homecare delivery management. Rotas and care records are updated in real-time over wifi and mobile phone networks. Transparency of data and ease of communication enables providers to drive improvements in quality, safety and efficiency. Another key benefit is that in agencies using these systems, care workers have access to smartphones. Once staff have smartphones, it is easy to install apps like Care Friends.

At present, though, only a proportion of homecare agencies are using digital care planning apps and issuing smartphones to staff. So one challenge could be availability of devices to enable staff to use Care Friends, as not many can afford their own.

Staff will adopt an app if it is simple, intuitive and offers a clear benefit to them. Staff already familiar with smartphones are likely to implement new apps quite readily, provided they add value.

If training and support for using the app are inadequate, staff are less likely to feel confident and may not start using it. This could be exacerbated if performance of the app is affected by bugs.

Another challenge might be maintaining use once the initial novelty has worn off and/or staff have referred all the contacts they have. Management challenges can also arise if friends and family work in the same service.

If the app is intuitive and used regularly and fairly by managers to reward staff in real-time for a range of performance metrics, such as referrals for recruitment and picking up extra shifts, staff are more likely to feel engaged and motivated to continue using it.

Dr Jane Townson Chief Executive Officer, UKHCA


Could be a source of staff cohesion

There are three types of organisation this app could market itself to: those with no digital capacity, who might find it hard to integrate the app into their systems; those with some digital capacity but not in recruitment, who could use it as a stand-alone app; and those who have digitised recruitment – would they be able to incorporate the app into their digital recruitment platform?

Gamification means Care Friends could be fun to use, and the potential for in-house competition means it could be a great source of staff cohesion. The benefits of incentivising new recruits to complete the joining process also leads me to think there could be the other unseen benefits – maybe in terms of people creating their own profile/brand on the app.
It is unclear whether joining the app is obligatory – could there be any prejudice in an organisation if a person decided not to download the app? However, if staff members weren’t using the app, this could be a point of discussion which might help understand staff motivation.

An organisation would need to understand clearly the issues this app is addressing and whether it fits within its digital strategy. While the article does not discuss the cost/benefit issues involved, this might also be an important factor.

The challenge for Care Friends is to define its market and the questions it is addressing.
If it fits with the profile of an organisation, I think staff would enjoy using this app and an organisation could use it to achieve greater efficiency and incentivise staff. I wonder whether integration with other systems could be a way forward for Care Friends.

Daniel Casson Digital Development Executive, Care England


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